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Football Daily Dose

Cam Newton and Jalen Hurts disappoint against smash spots on paper

by Rivers McCown
Updated On: November 29, 2021, 10:52 am ET

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You love to read it when you somehow had the foresight to start or avoid these players, you hate to read it when it's time to figure out how that could have happened: It's The Week In Confounding Fantasy Football! Tee Higgins is here! Kendrick Bourne is inevitable! The Panthers and Eagles fall on hard times. 

Kendrick Bourne continues to crush expectations in two-touchdown romp

How did this happen? The Patriots beating the Titans 36-13 is something that was very squarely on our radar. Pretty much everyone had the Patriots D/ST as a top-five play against an A.J. Brown-less Titans offense that struggled to handle the Texans. What was a little surprising was the shape of the New England offense as they struggled to put away Tennessee for a few quarters on the ground. The Titans asked the Patriots to beat them through the air, and unlikeliest hero of the season Kendrick Bourne put them in a blender as Mac Jones answered the challenge: 

The end game numbers look fairly normal for the Patriots as a rush offense, but they don't tell the whole story here. New England had nine carries for 23 yards at halftime. New England had to rely on Jones against what has been an up-and-down Titans defense and he happily obliged with his new cadre of weapons. Jones was happy to defy the edict that he's only a good short passer by going 5-for-10 for 90 yards and a touchdown on passes that traveled more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Bourne happened to get his two touchdowns on short passes, adding the other on a goal-to-go corner route:

And suddenly, Bourne is one of the NFL's hottest fantasy receivers. Somehow.

Who can we blame for this? N'Keal Harry, right? It's always fun to blame N'Keal Harry. No, I think Bourne is the closest thing that the Patriots offense has to someone who can win one-on-one underneath right now. Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith can do it when they're matched up with the right players. Jakobi Meyers wins more often against zone coverage, and deep targets are the name of Nelson Agholor's game. When teams are bullying up the line of scrimmage against the Patriots to try to make Jones beat them on a quick diagnosis, well, Bourne is exactly the wideout they want to dial up in that spot. 

What's our takeaway? Listen, nothing that has happened with Kendrick Bourne is sustainable from a rigorous statistical analysis. He has 16.0% of the team's targeted air yards, which is right below Amon-Ra St. Brown. He has had two games with more than four targets since Week 4, one of which happened here today. None of this makes sense. Certainly, none of it makes enough sense to want to test him against Buffalo's pass defense, right? Right? Why are you all picking him up? Well, I can't say I blame you in the circumstances, but Bourne hardly has the underlying statistics you'd want. He might make a good WR3 or FLEX on a fantasy team that has sudden injury or bye week problems, and I won't blame you for chasing a week like this. Just be aware that it may be fleeting. 

Carolina's offense completely falls apart against Miami

How did this happen? You ask a tough question, outlander. I think the key to the answer is that the Dolphins are one of the blitz-happiest teams in the NFL and that the Carolina offensive line is just woeful. The Panthers benched Cam Newton (5-for-21, two picks, 91 yards) and then watched P.J. Walker take four sacks on just 14 dropbacks. Christian McCaffrey (10 carries, 35 yards) was hurt in the second quarter when he rolled his ankle, depriving the Panthers passing game of their best checkdown option for dealing with blitzes, and the Panthers gave up on the zone-read game. The best way I could describe this game to you if you didn't watch it is to say that Matt Rhule was directly quoted in The Athletic as saying the Panthers offensive line wasn't protecting the quarterback at all and that the Newton benching was because "it didn't seem fair to keep Cam in there, keep getting hit." 

While the Dolphins have had a good defense in 2020, they'd been pretty vulnerable this year. They allowed 380 total yards to the Jets last week. And the only Panthers player you were happy to have started out of this mess is D.J. Moore, who built the whole plane out of his one 64-yard catch. 

Who can we blame for this? Usually, when a pass rush overwhelms an offensive line this badly, it falls at least a little bit on the offensive coordinator. I've been a big Joe Brady fan, but the Panthers desperately needed some quicker wins than what they were able to do in this game. And then, on the same token, with McCaffrey out, the easiest path to those quick wins was gone. But I think at this point we kind of have to acknowledge that the Panthers, much like the Falcons, are an offense that can be taken out of their game plan by a great pass rush or even a good pass rushing day. That's what Miami did.

What's our takeaway? Newton isn't quite ready to hit the back-end QB1 crowd despite his rushing potential. The Panthers have some bust potential in any matchup their offensive line is seriously tested in. The Dolphins defense has sneakily turned into a pretty decent unit over the past five weeks, holding down the Bills, Ravens, Texans, and Panthers fairly well. They may be worth streaming against the Giants, Jets, and Saints in the fantasy playoffs. 

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Tee Higgins finally busts out for a big day

How did this happen? Well, it's important to know that this was less of something that came out of nowhere as something that has been threatening to bubble to the surface for the last few weeks. Higgins has a respectable 28.9% of the Bengals air yards in an offense that already has Ja'Marr Chase at 40.9%. That means he's right behind Mike Evans and Keenan Allen in terms of air yardage share if you're looking for a direct comparison. Considering that Higgins had the target share and air yardage share that screamed "I'm involved," it was the traditional stats that lagged behind. Higgins went to work on the Steelers on Sunday, out-targeting Chase eight to three and reeling in 114 yards and a touchdown with six catches.

Higgins narrowly missed a second touchdown when he was brought down at the one as part of the supporting cast in The Joe Mixon Game. The Steelers have just been bludgeoned by the Bengals this year and with Joe Haden out, arguably couldn't match up with either of Cincinnati's main wideouts. The lucky thing for those of you up against Higgins and Chase this week? Pittsburgh's offense couldn't make the Bengals throw the ball. 

Who can we blame for this? Let's reframe the question a little bit: Higgins has always had the talent to do this, he just never had the opportunity because the Bengals don't throw a lot and Ja'Marr Chase has been such a shining star this year. The blame for this falls on Cincinnati's opponents for never forcing the Bengals to do this, in a way! 

The Steelers cornerback corps, which has allowed some long touchdowns this year when their pass rush can't square up an opponent, gets a supporting role in this one. 

What's our takeaway? This is going to be anti-climactic but I'm still not excited to start Higgins anywhere. This is his first 100-yard game of the year, and I think this was more of an inevitable breakout from volume than one that portends a major role down the stretch, particularly with the Bengals becoming more run-focused over the past two weeks. However, his volume keeps him on the streaming radar and he obviously has the talent -- I'm just going to need to see more games where he out-targets and out-air yards Chase before I'm excited about it in a usage tree that's this narrow. 

Jalen Hurts throws three picks in loss to Giants defense

How did this happen? Well, there are two answers to this. The simple answer is that the Eagles had three big drives and they only scored points on one of them because Hurts threw interceptions to Darnay Holmes on third-and-5 and Tae Crowder on third-and-goal at the nine. In a low-possession game, that's all it really took to sink Hurts. Boston Scott had the lone touchdown. 

The deeper answer is that the Eagles absolutely out-maneuvered the Saints on the ground last weekend, stealing gaps all over the place and just becoming such a devastating run attack that they opened up the entire playbook. They'd run for 200 or more yards in three of their last four games. They ran for 6.3 yards per carry against the Giants! But whereas the Eagles ran 50 times against the Saints, 39 times against the Broncos, and 46 times against the Lions, they only tried 33 times against New York's 30th-ranked run defense by DVOA. Hurts threw more than he had in any game since Week 7's loss to the Raiders.

And as for those interceptions, the Eagles would only set up third-and-manageable instead of third-and-short. Hurts struggled badly when it counted most, going 4-for-13 on third and fourth-down attempts. Then again, he was not helped by this receiving corps...

Who can we blame for this? Nick Sirianni's first year in Philadelphia has been an adventure. He has a good eye for adjustments, but he doesn't really seem to have a good eye for what the right moves look like in a vacuum at times. He can't get DeVonta Smith more involved in the offense, and in this game, he played it very cute with a Giants defense that had an obvious defensive weakness. I'm not saying that Sirianni is terrible or irredeemable -- it's his first year as a head coach -- but a reputation for being too cute isn't one you want to build with a team that can run like this. 

What's our takeaway? I would start Hurts with confidence against the Jets next week. None of the underlying data looked bad in this game, and he gave you exactly the rushing production you were looking for. It's just hard to overcome those rushing touchdowns becoming interceptions in a fantasy box score. The main cogs of the Eagles rush offense will be buy-lows for me if any of them happen to be available this week. And if Boston Scott isn't rostered in your league for whatever reason, I'd want in on that if I were you. 

Rivers McCown

Rivers McCown has been writing about football since 2009, most notably at Football Outsiders and covering the Texans for The Athletic. He most recently wrote that thing you just read. He hails from Houston, TX, and has not been traded to Arizona for magic beans yet. You can say nice things about him on Twitter @riversmccown, and you can yell at him on Twitter @RotoPat.